Preview The New United Airlines Polaris Business Class

I had the chance to spend some time with the new United Airlines Polaris business class product.  They held an event for frequent travelers at Dulles Airport that I was invited to by my friend David.

There were some knowledgable folks walking us through the seat itself and the soft product and a variety of foods to sample.  Here are my initial thoughts:

Polaris Bulkhead Business Class Seat

The seat is much more evolutionary than revolutionary.  There were two rows of seats set up for us to try out.  Due to the staggered configuration, I would have preferred a 3rd row of seats to get a better idea of the differences.

The first row appeared to be a bulkhead configuration (even though they were numbered 1A and 2A).  One of the seats was set up for passengers to experiment with controls, positioning, etc.  I found the tray table innovative, in that it didn’t actually have to be pulled out from storage.  It slid underneath the monitor in front of me and was quite sturdy.  The material design of the table was similar to the new United domestic first seat, though without the lack of stability.

The location of the outlets, including multiple USB ports near the passenger and the monitor, are consistent with other new business class seat offerings and I’m sure appreciated by customers.  The remote control is a little bit out of the way since the arm rest area doesn’t actually have any storage underneath.  The most convenient way to reach for it was with my opposite hand (using my right hand when the remote was on my left).  There’s plenty of space to park items easily for the fight attendants since the table/shelf is directly adjacent to the aisle.

Polaris Business Class

Monitor In United Polaris Seat

Polaris Business Class

Side Table

Polaris Business Class

Remote Control And Outlets

Polaris Business Class

Reading Light

Polaris Business Class

Tray Table Extended

Polaris Business Class

iPad Stand On Tray Table

Along with the standard controls there’s a rocker switch that fully reclines the seat as you hold it, allowing for a variety of small adjustments.  My legs were fairly far underneath the bulkhead, similar to the Austrian Airlines business class seat I tried out recently.  I didn’t find it uncomfortable, rather it’s a good use of space.

Polaris Business Class

Thanks To David For Taking A Boat Load Of Pics!

Polaris Business Class

Seat Controls

Polaris Business Class

Bed Mode!

Polaris Business Class

Foot Well on Bulkhead Seat

The orientation of the first row is straight ahead as opposed to angled.  Based on the back of the second row, I would expect the third row (and all odd numbered rows) to be the same orientation (though not spacing) as the bulkhead.  But, that’s why I really would have liked to see a third row using the middle foot-wells that wasn’t a bulkhead.

Polaris Business Class

View Of The Foot Wells For A Theoretical Third Row

I’m 5’9″ tall and had no issues fitting in the seat both sitting and laying down.  David is 6’4″-ish and didn’t look comfortable, though he said he thought he fit okay in the shoulders and legs.  Fully extended, his feet were touching the end of the seat with his head at the top of the headrest.  He said he was fine laying on his left side, the natural orientation of the seat with a left-hand opening to the aisle.  He didn’t think he would be able to lay on his right side comfortably.

Keeping in mind that these seats are most definitely prototypes, the arm rest did not fully recess into the seat like most current seats do.  Given the change in pitch the seat makes when fully reclined, I could see that being the case upon deployment.  That being said, I do think they could engineer a fix that might minimize the issues for travelers who aren’t string beans like me.

Polaris Business Class

Bulkhead Armrest

Ultimately, I think seat selection will be important for passengers.  The bulkhead seats seem to have more room, and travelers who prefer sleeping on their left or right side will want to choose accordingly.

Polaris Non-Bulkhead Business Class Seat

The only row of non-bulkhead seats they had was configured with the foot-wells angled towards the aisle.  This gives the passenger an orientation more towards the aisle as well.

Polaris Business Class

Non-Bulkhead Seat With Yours Truly

Polaris Business Class

Guessing This Is For Flowers

The table/shelf area I have my elbow on in the picture above is the only stationary flat surface in the seat.  This means the flight attendant will be reaching over you to set things down and clear plates if you don’t have your tray table extended.  The tray table here is exactly the same as the bulkhead seat, sliding out from under the monitor.

There’s a standard storage area for headphones, toiletries and small items near the stationary table.  Same thing happens in the non-bulkhead seat with the remote control.  It’s located a bit further away requiring a bit of a reach.  The other concern here is that you’re dragging the cable for the remote control through the table area where you’ll likely have drinks/snacks/other items.  That’s a bit of a pain.

Polaris Business Class

Cabinet Storage And Side Table, Non-Bulkhead Seat

This seat had a working demonstration of the privacy screen in between the two seats.  It’s easy to operate and a welcome addition to the seats, though when you’re sitting back in the seat you can’t see the passenger next to you even with the screen down.

The arm rest on the non-bulkhead seat fully recessed into the frame of the seat.  That makes me think that the arm rest on the bulkhead seat that didn’t fully recess is either a bug or something that can be fixed.

Polaris Business Class

Armrest Flush On Non-Bulkhead Seat

Polaris Business Class

Foot Well On Non-Bulkhead. Maybe A Bit Narrower?

Overall Thoughts On The Seat

Both seats show a shoulder belt likely needing to be worn for take-off and landing.  I’ve seen that pop up in a handful of seats lately, including (I’m pretty sure) the American Airlines 787 seat.

The seat itself is a nice seat, not overly progressive.  It’s much more of a cocoon than the existing version of United business class seats.  Business travelers and people traveling alone will definitely appreciate the privacy versus the current generation of seats, especially the folks that dread the 2-4-2 configurations still flying on some planes.

Pillows, Blankets, Etc

The standard setup as described will be two pillows, a day blanket and a duvet.  Customers will be able to request onboard both a seat-top mattress pad and a “cooling, memory foam pillow” (both pictured below.

Polaris Business Class

Pillows And Blankets

Polaris Business Class

Pillows And Blankets

Polaris Business Class

Cooling, Memory Foam Pillow

 

I included my hand in the picture of the memory foam pillow so folks would have some sense of size.  The memory foam pillows are smaller than the regular pillows, more the size of the old domestic first class pillows, if you still remember those.  That’s not surprising, given that on bigger planes they’re going to need a lot of storage for mattress toppers and pillows to satisfy potential requests.

really like the two blankets approach.  I’m not the biggest guy in the world, but I like to be completely under a blanket (literally only nose and eyes poking out, yes I’m sure I look funny) and the vast majority of business class blankets aren’t long enough to cover me.  Two blankets definitely solves that problem.

Headphones, Amenity Kits, Slippers

The headphones look pretty standard.  If they were available for a demonstration, I missed it.  I was informed the slippers are fleece-lined.  I don’t think I’ve ever worn slippers on a plane, nor do I recall being handed a pair.  The amenities are all Cowshed products, which I’ve seen pop up here and there.  And, the eye mask is actually pretty darn good.  It’s not as good as my Bucky Blinks version, but the best one I’ve seen an airline hand out.

Polaris Business Class

Amenities

Polaris Business Class

Amenity Kit

Polaris Business Class

Eye Mask

Food Offerings

It wasn’t 100% clear that we were testing actual menu items.  There were some signs that the food was inspired by the chefs involved in the menus, and the staff weren’t clear on whether we were trying actual items to be rolled out in the air.  There were obvious choices that likely won’t be, like the fresh nigiri sushi.

There was a variety of cuisine, including Italian, Indian, and that big sushi display.

Polaris Business Class

Cuisine

Polaris Business Class

Italian

Polaris Business Class

Gnocchi With Short Ribs, One Of The Better Choices

And, cupcakes.  Mmmm, cupcakes.

Polaris Business Class

Mini Hostess Cupcakes!

Polaris Business Class

Dessert!

Polaris Business Class

More Dessert!

The wine choices they served were respectable choices, including Nicolas Feuillate Champagne.  Some folks will scoff that there’s no Dom or Krug, but I wouldn’t expect any domestic US airline to be upping their game that much.  The Nicolas is a reasonable, tasty choice given the budget United was likely working with.

Polaris Business Class

Polaris Beverages

Oh, and I really do hope the balsamic syringe makes it onboard!

Polaris Business Class

Balsamic Syringe!

Wrapping Up

I came away impressed with the overall presentation, though I chose to skip the virtual reality portion.

Polaris Business Class

Virtual Reality? I’ll Wait For Reality

The hashtag for the event was #DreamPolaris.  I don’t think we get all the way to dreams, but it’s a solid effort.  It’s a good seat that United should roll out quickly.  The talk is that soft goods will start appearing at the end of 2016, but the real candy for frequent travelers is in the new seat itself.  After quite a few years of United not meeting expectations, I was adamant with some friends who attended the event that I’ll withhold judgment until I actually fly the product.  Until then, I still expect there could be changes, given the 5-year timeline to roll the product out across the entire fleet.  And, the surprise arrival of Scott Kirby at United could certainly mix things up as well.

While I was initially skeptical that Scott would leave the upscale Airbus 321T in place that American Airlines uses for transcontinental routes, he surprised me a bit by not touching it.  He has worked pretty hard to make sure elites aren’t getting upgraded into those seats by increasing the places that American is selling discounted upgrades.  And, of course, there was the recent change to start charging more miles for those transcons without telling customers.

The likely end result here is a better product for frequent travelers with less (and more expensive) access using miles or upgrade instruments.  If you want to hang out in this seat, you’re more likely going to need to buy a business class ticket.

The post Preview The New United Airlines Polaris Business Class was published first on Pizza in Motion

8 Comments

    1. Greg, I’ve never seen the Nicolas on UA. Just had two intl flights last month, neither of which served it. Interesting. They had a Lyric Chardonnay that I didn’t try (not a Chardonnay guy) and a Malbec that I enjoyed. Hunting for the name…

  1. Terrazo Malbec can be had for $10 a bottle. Sounds about right for UA to cheap out on the wine for international business class. (They could pour some very good Napa Cabs for $20 – $25 a bottle) UA is going to need some new flight attendants as well. The current mix doesn’t work hard enough or care enough about their company to make this a business class product worth considering. It’s too bad since IAD is my home airport.

  2. Thanks for sharing this review. One point of writing advice: in the final sentence of our fourth paragraph, you could make it more readable by changing the last clause from “though without the lack of stability” to “though it is much more stable.” The double negative made me do a double take.

  3. Great. United’s business class is getting close to where BA’s, Virgin’s, Cathay’s and Singapore’s business class was 15 years ago. Go ‘Murica.

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